Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol drives between Boston Celtics Brandon Bass and Celtics Jermaine O'Neal in the first half of their NBA basketball game at TD Garden in Boston

Celtics-Lakers: 5 Things to Watch

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With the Lakers and Celtics renewing their epic rivalry this afternoon, it’s time to look ahead at what we’re witnessing when the two face-off at Staples Arena at 3:30 p.m. EST. It’s the NBA’s oldest, best, and most celebrated rivalry and despite the turning point both teams are facing in their history. Here are five things to watch today when the Lakers host the Celtics.

1. End of an Era: This is the end of Lakers-Celtics 2000’s. A rivalry reborn in 2008 when they met in the Finals, a series famous for a dramatic Lakers collapse, Paul Pierce’s wheelchair episode which Lakers fans hold onto like a pitbull with flank steak, and the celebration of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in their first championship. The rivalry took a year off, most believe due to a Kevin Garnett knee injury which ended his season in April. And then of course the 2010 re-match, a Lakers victory famous for Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury which gave the Celtics their out card, Ron Artest’s biggest play as a Laker, and a big revenge game for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But it’s a near-lock these teams will not look the same next year.

Even if the Lakers keep their core, the Celtics are very unlikely to keep both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. There will be changes. The rivalry will sustain, but you should enjoy this last meeting between two behemoths that have defined the NBA over the past five seasons.

2. Mentally Unstable: Both teams are suffering from the strain of the trade deadline. The Lakers are constantly under a haze of rumors. The Celtics’ management has been proactive in getting the word out that their players are not actively being shopped. True or not, it changes how they’re behaving. They’re smart enough to know they could still be traded, but it makes them feel a little better. The Lakers meanwhile are having team meeting after team meeting to try and move past that pressure. Its’ not a good situation.

3. Bad Blood Is Fun: Paul Pierce and Metta World Peace know each other. They know most everything about each other. And yet they will have the same battle they’ve had for years. Artest will battle and body him. Pierce will draw fouls and create space. This game could hinge on which Pierce shows up. If it’s the tired, worn-out Pierce that can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, it could get bad. If it’s the Pierce that loves beating the Lakers and has been showing up over the past month, this game is going to be tight, exciting and primed for a dose of the Truth.

4. Being Taller Is Better: Kevin Garnett plays center at times. Chris Wilcox has been out, Brandon Bass is a stretch four in the purest sense. Stiemsma is not a good matchup. The Lakers have the tallest and arguably best frontcourt in the league. The Celtics are going to have to swarm them immediately in the post and hope to create a bad night for them.

5. Which Masked Mamba?: Kobe Bryant is everything for everyone this season. Scoring 40 points, averaging 30-ish. Shooting a ton. Getting Bynum involved at times. Ignoring him at others. Hitting incredible shots. Missing stupid shots. (Hint: they look the same.) If the Celtics-killing, jaw-jutting, most-dangerous-man-in-the-game shows up, the Celtics might as well pack it in and go home. If the gunning, turnover-prone, reminder-of-age shows up, the Celtics could exploit the Lakers’ tendencies and run away on the road. There’s no way to stop Kobe. You just have to hope the bad version shows up.

Mike Krzyzewski: Team USA having too much fun, needs to tone it down

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  DeMar DeRozan #9 of the United States Men's National Team looks on during a break in the action against the China Men's National Team during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Mike Krzyzewski hates fun (even more than he admits).

So, the coach wasn’t thrilled after Team USA’s exhibition win over China, which included DeMar DeRozan nearly 360-degree dunking on someone.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

I want to see Team USA make highlight plays. Dunk from the free-throw line. Shoot from halfcourt. Throw behind-the-back passes. Show up weaker competition.

So, it’s hard for me to get behind Coach K’s criticism.

But I also want to see the Americans win gold medals in the Olympics, and I’ll blame Krzyzewski if they’re not adequately focused.

Fair? Not one bit.

Doesn’t change what I want, though.

Report: Kevin Durant told Russell Westbrook he’d re-sign with the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook #0 look on prior to game six of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant said he had to distance himself from Russell Westbrook entering free agency. Yet, Durant listened to the Warriors recruiting him all season and had clearly been interested in Golden State for months.

The writing was on the wall.

Except, a few days before taking meetings in the Hamptons (which led to signing with the Warriors), Durant dined with Westbrook.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant’s sitting there at dinner, telling him “Hey, I’m coming back, man. Don’t worry about it.” And now, Russell Westbrook has been kind of thrown into this in having to decide his future a summer earlier than expected.

Kevin Durant, more so than even that, was telling people, “Hey, yeah, I mean I’m coming back.” Like I said in there, a week before Kevin Durant sat down in the Hamptons, he was in Oklahoma City ready to make an offer on a multi-million-dollar house. So, the guy was pretty serious about coming back, and then things turned rather quickly for him to leave. And there’s no doubt that the organization felt a little bit burned by this.

Maybe Durant said that. Maybe he meant it in the moment. Maybe he was just trying to appease someone he didn’t want to let down. Maybe he was unclear. Maybe Westbrook read too much into a more clear statement.

There’s a lot of room for imperfect recollection/interpretation. We’re dealing with human beings.

Likewise on the house. Who says Durant was “ready” to make an offer? That’s an awfully difficult assessment to make outside his head. Just as the Celtics had a list of players Durant wanted them to add, it seems he was preparing for all contingencies. It’s hard to nail down rather he was house hunting because he was certain he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City or whether he just wanted a new place if he stayed in Oklahoma City.

So much of what we know about Durant’s process for picking the Warriors suggests a rational decision. He considered them for months, met with multiple teams, conferred with his inner circle then made a choice.

If Durant told Westbrook or anyone else he’d re-sign with the Thunder, that obviously changes the equation. But I’m left wondering:

How many people in Oklahoma City heard what they wanted to hear rather than what Durant actually said?

How many people are incentivized to paint Durant as impulsive, because the alternative — Durant thoughtfully deciding the Thunder weren’t his best option — indicates deeper flaws in the franchise?

Watch Carmelo Anthony put up 16 points in third quarter on China

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Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins are pretty much locked in as four of the Team USA starters come the Olympics. But who gets that fifth slot, the one for a wing player? Paul George? Jimmy Butler?

Don’t be shocked if Carmelo Anthony gets that slot.

He helped make his case Tuesday, scoring 16 in the third quarter alone on China in an easy Team USA victory in a pre-Olympics exhibition. Mike Krzyzewski likes to reward veterans, and ‘Melo is one of the old guy leaders of this team who has collected two gold medals already. Don’t be surprised if ‘Melo is a starter in Rio (Draymond Green started Tuesday, but only because the game was at Oracle Arena and Coach K likes to give guys a bigger role in front of the local crowds where they play).

DeMar DeRozan just missed spectacular in-game 360 poster dunk (VIDEO)

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Can a missed dunk attempt be brilliant?

DeMar DeRozan says yes.

The Toronto Raptors guard almost pulled off an in-game 360-dunk over a defender during the USA’s latest rout of China in an Olympics tune-up game. How impressive was the dunk? Ask LeBron James.